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Rhetorical yes/no questions in ASL:


Are rhetorical yes/no questions marked in some way or are they to be understood via inference?

It is my belief that if a large number of instances of rhetorical yes-no questions were to be analyzed such analysis would demonstrate significant marking beyond or in addition to simple eyebrow raises.

Do I have proof of that or a reference? No.

For what it is worth, I am sitting here in my chair signing a rhetorical "YOU THINK YOU FUNNY YOU?" -- while adding quite a bit of facial expression and other changes beyond what I would normally do for a simple yes or no question.

When asking yes/no rhetorical questions, the facial expression is likely to vary to match the underlying tone or intent of the rhetorical question. Thus rather than there being one specific method of marking rhetorical yes/no questions there may be a variety of methods that are situation dependent.

In the case of "Do you think you are funny?" -- the facial expression will depend on what sort of interaction is going on and the relationship between the interlocutors.

For example, the question "Do you think you are funny?" -- can be signed (among other ways) using a combination of Y/N eyebrows, a sarcastic facial expression, and a negative headshake.

It could be argued that the negative headshake is being used to make the comment "Well, you aren't!" -- thus answering the rhetorical question with a statement at the same time the question is being asked.

I also notice that when experimenting with yes / no rhetorical questions -- I occasionally raise just one eyebrow while lowering the other.
Thus if there were to be a specific marker for rhetorical yes/no questions (not rhetorical wh-type) raising one eyebrow while lowering the other would be a good candidate.

- Bill
William G. Vicars Ed.D.





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